The first tweet was made in March 2006. But in April 2012, more than six years later, Business Insider journalist Jay Yarow lamented that people still don't know how to use Twitter. The problem isn't necessarily the basic acts of signing in to Twitter and posting tweets, but in understanding the Twitter language and "slang" symbols. Understanding these symbols and using them effectively is key to positioning yourself and your business as a "hip" authority on Twitter.
There are two main characters that you should know: "#" and "@." The "@" symbol means what it appears to mean: "at." Whenever you see this symbol, typically in front of another person's Twitter name or "handle," it means that someone else made a deliberate effort to mention that Twitter handle and to get the attention of the person who manages that handle. The "#" symbol is called a "hashtag." People use the hashtag to attach a theme or "tag" to their tweets, usually in connection with a trending or popular topic, such as #[Company]IPO or #Marketing.
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There are also multiple abbreviation symbols to know. DM (direct message), FF (follow Friday), OH (overheard), MT (modified tweet), RT (retweet) and HT (hat tip). Sometimes someone might ask you to "DM me." That means to send him a direct message over Twitter. "FF" is typically preceded by a hashtag (i.e. #FF) and refers to the Friday ritual of encouraging others to follow certain Twitter accounts. "OH" precedes a quote overheard somewhere (e.g. OH: "I think someone's listening to our conversation!"). "RT" means "retweet." This typically precedes another person's handle and a tweet of his or hers that you're quoting (e.g. RT @TwitterHandle "We had so much fun last night in the rain!"). "MT" means "modified tweet" and is basically the same as a "RT" but with a modified quote (e.g. MT @TwitterHandle "We had so much fun last night!"). And "HT" means "hat tip" and is used to acknowledge another user for mentioning you or retweeting one of your tweets (e.g. HT @TwitterHandle Thanks for the mention!).
Character and Abbreviation Symbols In Action
With a better understanding of the meaning of these symbols, you're empowered to engage others on Twitter. For example, when using the "@" symbol to mention another Twitter account (e.g. @TwitterFollower), the only ones who see that tweet are those who follow both you and the person you're mentioning. However, if you want everyone to see the tweet, simply place any other character before "@" (e.g. *@TwitterFollower). Additionally, while Twitter allows you to retweet someone else's tweet by clicking a retweet link, some users manually retweet by placing "RT" before the tweet, as mentioned earlier. In a manual retweet, your Twitter account will be featured in the Twitter stream, and not the account whose tweet you're retweeting.
There are Twitter-tailored programs, such as Twitter Keys and Twitter Symbols, that complement your tweets by enabling you to use more "artistic" symbols, such as a heart or a musical note. The meaning of these symbols depends on the context in which they're placed.